A Travellerspoint blog

Gone to Goa At Last!

Easter on the beach and explorations in Panaji and Old Goa

sunny 40 °C

Lady looking out to sea on Bogmalo Beach

Lady looking out to sea on Bogmalo Beach

After 7 trips and close to 2 years travelling in India, I have finally made it to Goa. At last I will be able to answer yes to the inevitable question from almost any Indian I meet – “have you been to Goa?” I knew it was a very popular destination and had a fascinating Portuguese and Christian history, but somehow it never made it onto my ‘must see’ lists. Maybe because I’m not normally a beach person, and I perceived the culture to be centred around that? Maybe because its reputation for partying and drugs no longer seemed to be so appealing to me? Maybe just because everyone went and I was being stubborn? Not sure, but regardless of reason, Sandra and I were trying to decide where we’d go for the Easter break when Laura and Colin, friends from the British High Commission, said they were heading to Bogmalo Beach, to the Coconut Creek Resort (http://www.coconutcreekgoa.com), and we decided to finally take the plunge.

Bogmalo Beachf from Joet's

Bogmalo Beachf from Joet's

With no AC rooms left at the lovely Coconut Creek, we opted for the cheaper – and right on the beach – sister property Joet’s Guesthouse. Bogmalo Beach is quite lovely, with wonderful crashing waves and waving palm trees. Each day we’d trek up the path to Coconut Creek and hang out by the pool with the gang, lazily sipping Mojitos, and then rolling into the pool to cool off.

Finding wildlife wherever I go - at dinner (but not for dinner) in Coconut Creek

Finding wildlife wherever I go - at dinner (but not for dinner) in Coconut Creek

We were so glad we opted for AC though! Many in our group had rooms at the resort without AC. The temperature was pretty high, but not crazy; however, combined with the sultry humidity, sleeping was not so comfortable for them. One of the girls told me they would step into the shower, nightclothes on and all, and then go to bed wet under the fan – apparently that worked quite well.

Streets of Panaji in the Latin Quarter

Streets of Panaji in the Latin Quarter

Joet’s Guesthouse has quite a good reputation for food, and the open-air restaurant, on the beach, is a wonderful spot. Unfortunately, we had dinner there with our group of 16 and probably because of that, we weren’t overly impressed. Still, one of the highlights in Goa was the fabulous, spicy and affordable seafood and we started our taste adventures here.

Heading to the capital ~ Panaji

Lovely orchid garden in our Panaji Homestay

Lovely orchid garden in our Panaji Homestay

After 3 nights and days just hanging out with the gang, we were off on a short drive to the capital city of Panaji (or Panjim). We stayed at an amazing little homestay on a leafy street in the old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas called Afonso Guesthouse (afonsoguesthouse@gmail.com). It was also only a 15 minute (albeit sweaty) walk to the downtown area. The rooms were insanely cheap, super clean and comfortable. The family running the property were so helpful and friendly, arranging transportation for us to Old Goa and making sure we knew how much to reasonably pay for things – very sweet people.

Beautiful bougainvilla in the Latin Quater of Panaji

Beautiful bougainvilla in the Latin Quater of Panaji

Our first day in Panaji, we set off to explore the winding streets, and sweat some more, cause the system needed to be cleaned out after all those Mojitos! Located on the Mandovi River, and backed by terraced hills it is a very pretty town, with an interesting mix of architecture.

San Sebastien Church from our rooftop breakfast patio at Afonso Guesthouse

San Sebastien Church from our rooftop breakfast patio at Afonso Guesthouse

History in a nutshell: Panaji has a history dating back to the 11th century and the Kadamba dynasty. Most of the visible influences now though are a mix of Indian and the Portuguese who arrived in the 16th century. In 1843 it was renamed Panjim and became the capital after the previous capital of Old Goa was decimated by plagues of malaria and cholera. The new name meant the land that never floods. In the 60s the Indian government was forced to invade Goa to make the Portuguese leave. Goa rejoined India and was named Panaji once again.

Maybe they didn't do well in English studies?

Maybe they didn't do well in English studies?

Finished in 1541, the Church of our Lady of Immaculate Conception sits at the head of the downtown core and overlooking the main square. This was the first stop for Portuguese sailors arriving from the home country. They would come here to give thanks for arriving safely before venturing further into the lush continent to Old Goa.

1541 Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception

1541 Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception

After traipsing around town, dripping steadily, and trying in vain to find a restaurant described by locals as the Best in town – the Ritz – we settled for the blessedly freezing, delicious, but not-Goan, Sher-E-Punjabi restaurant.

Who knew Bloomingdales had franchises in Goa?

Who knew Bloomingdales had franchises in Goa?

Day 2 and we took a car about 40 minutes away to the World Heritage site of Old Goa – that at one time was called the “Rome of the East” and had a population more than London or Lisbon. The drive was spectacular and reminiscent of Kerala. Beautiful, lush, dense vegetation on a winding road, with lovely little houses – some old Portuguese, others a whimsical mix of Indo-Portuguese.

Old Goa

Belfry of St. Augustine

Belfry of St. Augustine

Our first stop was at the very atmospheric ruins of the convent and Church of St. Augustine founded in 1572. A movie was being filmed there, so we watched that for a while, before they quickly packed up and we could wander at will. The only major structure left standing here at the massive site was the belfry tower. During one of the repressive regimes of the Church, many orders were dismantled, including the Augustine’s and the church was ordered abandoned in 1835, which started the neglect and decay of this massive building. The weather was bright but grey, which only added to the fabulous feeling of the place. We spent a long time strolling this magnificent site, and it was my favourite spot in Old Goa.

Ruins of St Augustine

Ruins of St Augustine


Beautiful forest surrounding St. Augustine

Beautiful forest surrounding St. Augustine

More ruins...

More ruins...


Across the road, and fronted by massive bougainvillea’s was the 1627 Church and Convent of St. Monica.

Across the road, and fronted by massive bougainvillea’s was the 1627 Church and Convent of St. Monica.

The most revered Church in Old Goa is the Church of Bom Jesus, which was begun in 1594. It was the first church in India to be made minor-basilica. Not sure what that means, but sounds important!

Basilica of Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom Jesus

A nice baroque-style church, the most fascinating thing for us was the tomb of St. Frances Xavier, the patron Saint of Goa. It is rather strange to look onto the visible remains of the Saint, resting in the heavily decorated glass, silver and gold casket. All the remains except for his finger that is, which is kept in a crystal urn and taken out on December 3, the day of the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, to be displayed to the public. This is done once every ten years, the last being in 2004 and the next 2014. Until recently, people were able to actually kiss the feet of the remarkably preserved Saint at this festival. The exposure though caused a lot of damage to the body. Apparently one an overly-devout attendee bit off the toe of the Saint, and it reportedly gushed blood!

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St Francis of Xavier in his glass-fronted coffin

St Francis of Xavier in his glass-fronted coffin

The Saint’s remains are said to have powers of healing. This is rather ironic, since in 1554 he was also the instigator of the Inquisition in Goa by writing the Pope to request that the Inquisition come to India. It did come, with typically horrific results, but in 1560 after the Saint had tied in 1552 on the island of Sancian, awaiting permission to enter China. The Inquisition didn’t formally end till 1812 in Goa!

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

The Se Cathedral of Old Goa is the largest cathedral in India, and apparently Asia. The first building was built in 1510 and dedicated to St. Catherine. The 2nd building was begun in 1515 and gained cathedral status in 1538. The current structure was completed in 1564 and is the seat of the Archbishop of Goa.

Cross decorated with a marigold garland next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus

Cross decorated with a marigold garland next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus

After traipsing (and did I mention sweating?) around Old Goa, we made a stop at a spice plantation and then back to Panaji for a wonderful meal at Viva Panjim, one of the most recommended restaurants by travellers in Panaji and literally around the corner from our hotel. It had mixed reviews about the level of service, but we must have had a good night because if was friendly and relatively efficient. The outdoor seating is set up on either side of an alley, and we had to squeeze in as the odd motorcycle drove through the middle of the tables. The food was very good, and amazingly cheap, given its popularity with foreigners. The two of us had: prawns balchao (lemon, chilli curry), garlic calamari, chicken xacutti (spicy curry made with roasted grated coconut), rice, Kingfisher beer and for desert – bebinca, a dish baked in layers of flour, jaggery, ghee and coconut milk. Total bill? Under 500 rupes – $10! Yummy!!

Sculptures on an old Portugese house in Panaji

Sculptures on an old Portugese house in Panaji

The next day we were leaving in the afternoon so made another attempt to find the Ritz Classic restaurant for lunch… and we were successful! This was the best meal we had in Goa and were the only foreigners in the packed space. So amazingly good as we indulged in a mutton xacutti, a goan fish curry and prawns vindaloo. Great way to end the trip.

So we finally tasted Goa, and really, for us it was the highlight. Goa is very nice, and the history fascinating, but don’t feel the need to return I often feel in other parts of the country. Wouldn’t say no to returning, but just not overly enamoured. The best of Goa for me was the wonderful and affordable food. This, come to think of it, is a pretty compelling reason to come back actually!

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 07:07 Archived in India Tagged goa panaji st._augustine bom_jesus francis_xavier old_goa bogmalo Comments (0)

Lions, Textiles and Art

Returning to Gujarat and Heading Further into the Kutch

sunny 36 °C

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When last I left you we had wrapped up a wonderful Rajasthani adventure and were heading to Gujarat. To get their we took a Volvo bus trip from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. I know it's not indicative of all Indian bus trips, but it was my first and wonderful! Very nice bus, 5 hours downtown-to-downtown, two Bollywood flicks - one good and one bad -- and only 300 rupees! Was fun to watch the movies and we were pretty much able to figure out what was happening through most of them even without subtitles. It was easier to follow the better drama than the pretty bad comedy.

On the Road: Mickey-Mouse-eared Buffalo enjoying the mud bath!

On the Road: Mickey-Mouse-eared Buffalo enjoying the mud bath!

Only had a night in Ahmedabad this trip, just a quick sleep at the very affordable and decent Accolade Hotel then off to Sasan Gir for 4 nights, with a quick but important stop in Rajkot for our alcohol permit and supplies! Funny how important having access to alcohol becomes when you are 'forbidden' to have it. As a friend pointed out, would probably drink far less if it wasn't forbidden. As it was, we picked up a bottle of whiskey, Hercules rum (yum), gin, cognac from duty-free and a mickey of vodka, plus 6 cans of kingfisher beer. For 3 of us over 10 days! Far more than we'd normally drink - honestly - and even had some left over despite our very sincere and impressive efforts (no leftover cognac though). Interesting to note that for this trip at least, it was far more pleasant to get our permits in Rajkot than the shame-laden permit process in Ahmedabad last November.

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On the way, we stopped at the side of the road in Jetpur to check out masses and masses of dried chillies grown in surrounding farms. They were lovely people, with wonderful smiles and fantastic lungs. We were coughing from airborne pepper dust as soon as we started the climb down to see their produce. All kinds and sizes of chillies, including one of my favs – Kashmiri.
Chilli Lady

Chilli Lady

Sasan Gir National Park

Snakebird takes off over the water

Snakebird takes off over the water

Finally arriving in Gir, the differences in the vegetation immediately apparent from last November. As expected it was so much drier, hotter and bare. The fallen teak leaves that formed a thick crunchy carpet were mostly gone, disintegrating into the forest floor.

Langur lunch!

Langur lunch!

This trip we decided to check out the Gir Birding Lodge. The setting was lovely with little cottages set in a large mango orchard. Lovely and quiet with just 6 cottages on the property. The only negative for the lodge was the lack of a dedicated jeep and driver, instead using a roster system of jeep drivers from town. This makes it the quality of jeep and driver uncertain and inconsistant. It's usually much better having one driver employed, or contracted by a lodge. It generally ensures a better quality of ride and knowledge as well; a consistent driver gets to know the client, what they are interested in and where they’ve already been, more likely ensuring a better experience. So while Gir Birding Lodge provided cleaner rooms, far better food and generally more helpful and consistent staff, Anil Farmhouse’s resident naturalist/driver Haneef makes it hard for me to decide which would win out for the best place to stay of the two. Next time will have to try a 3rd place maybe?

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Crested (formerly Changeable) Hawk Eagle

Crested (formerly Changeable) Hawk Eagle

But on to the important stuff – the animals! As always, they are the stars! We had some fantastic sightings, though not as many lions as last November. It was explained (though not sure if true) that the lion rangers that control the traffic around sightings actually regularly 'herd' the lions up to where they can be seen. While we were there, there was a leopard not far away that had been killing children and many rangers had joined the effort to track it. Still at the end of our first drive, we had a spectacular sighting, coming upon a lioness and her two young cubs. It was just us with her and we had quite a while as her babies checked us out. Such a high!

Posing for the paparazzi!

Posing for the paparazzi!


Hey, who's that?

Hey, who's that?


Damn flies!

Damn flies!


Checking out the scenery

Checking out the scenery

This visit was also memorable for vehicle mishaps. We had a flat tire in the forest, had to give our spare tire to another jeep and shortly after visiting with a couple of male lions, broke down by a small stream! The driver and forest guide tried in vain to get the jeep going again before settling down to wait for a rescue vehicle and mechanic to show up. Sandra got her iPhone out and we boogied to Boney M while we waited, hoping the lions wouldn’t amble over to the rivers of Babylon!

Langurs taking a leap

Langurs taking a leap

Bhuj and the Kutch

Salt farming in the Kutch

Salt farming in the Kutch


Beautiful colours and bangles in the Kutch

Beautiful colours and bangles in the Kutch

After Gir, we were off for a 7 hour drive to Bhuj and the Kutch. We stayed at the Kutch Safari Lodge, which has seen better days. It was pretty hot by now so wildlife was unfortunately not really on the table, but fortunately, the incredible crafts of the area was. We saw beautiful embroidery and textile work with incredible detail and art. Sandra picked up a vintage dowry bag, completely embroidered all over with geometrical and floral motifs.

Remnants of the earthquake of 10 years ago still evident everywhere

Remnants of the earthquake of 10 years ago still evident everywhere

We popped into the19th century Prag Mahal palace in Bhuj, which was strange in its very European architecture. The 2001 earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the palace, and like other parts of area, you can still see evidence of this large quake that caused such devastation. The palace itself had some beautiful elements, but is in amazing state of decay, with roaming pigeons and rotting game trophys. Very atmospheric, but sad to see how badly it is being preserved.

Careful conservation in the palace

Careful conservation in the palace

Dining room in the Prag Mahal Palace

Dining room in the Prag Mahal Palace

During our explorations, we stopped in a village – Nirona – filled with artisans hand-making all types of crafts. Of particular jaw-dropping beauty was the Rogan (or Roghan) fabric painting done by the Khatri family. The last remaining family to do this particular art form. The ‘paint’ is made from castor oil that is boiled to a careful consistency over two to three days. It is then mixed with natural substances to create the colours. To get the right painting consistency, a piece of gum-like paint is worked and warmed in the hand, until a thin string of colour can be pulled smoothly with a metal stylus and laid onto fabric in precise and intricate lines. Once laid down, the fabric is folded and the pattern rubbed and duplicated on the other side. You have about 20 minutes to create the duplication before the paint is too dry to work,so not a quick process.

Rogan fabric painting

Rogan fabric painting

The art form has been done by this family for 8 generations and had nearly died out, because in its original form was a more basic patterned art to create saris. The painters couldn’t compete with the machine dyed fabrics and gradually disappeared. The Khatri family re-positioned the work as art, forming panels of increasing intricacy and difficulty. NO two patterns are the same and the only place you can get these pieces are from the family. So beautiful!
Phenomenal demonstration of Rogan painting

Phenomenal demonstration of Rogan painting

Making the copper bells in the Kutch - feet are very useful!

Making the copper bells in the Kutch - feet are very useful!

We also visited a fascinating demonstration of copper bell making by a lovely man with a wonderful face and brilliant smile. He deftly shaped, hammered, cut and formed the bells, proudly presenting us with the finished product.

Proud copper bell smith and his bell

Proud copper bell smith and his bell


Again the useful feet, this time turning wood

Again the useful feet, this time turning wood

Finally we stopped into a wood turner, creating spoons and ladles, which he coloured with resins held against the spinning wood, creating wonderful colourfast patterns. We barely touched the work in this area of unique, colourful and talented communities, and it left me even more interested in the area than before.

Village hut in the Kutch

Village hut in the Kutch

Mirror-work inside a Kutch village hut

Mirror-work inside a Kutch village hut

We couldn’t leave without a quick trip to the White Rann, a seasonal salt marsh in the Thar Desert. You have to get a permit to enter this vast, white area with salt pooling in every depression, and strong hot winds driving into us. During the summer monsoon time, the area is flooded, creating winter habitats for flamingoes, cranes and other birds.

Salt collecting in the tire tracks in the White Rann

Salt collecting in the tire tracks in the White Rann

After getting our permit from very officious and self-important police officials, and driving past the military post, where the soldiers waved and smiled at us in a stark contrast, we reached the edge of the White Rann. Sadly, this beautiful, alien landscape was littered with familiar garbage and plastic. I left vowing to bring a garbage bag with me if I came again.

CV and Sandra in the White Rann

CV and Sandra in the White Rann

This trip ended like so many -- far too quickly and we were driving back to head to Delhi for a quick laundry and pack for my inaugural trip to Goa. On the way back, we had an unexpected Wild Ass sighting. Straying from the sanctuary into fields of cotton, were happy asses, rolling around in the fields of cotton.

Wild Ass straying to the cotton fields in the Kutch

Wild Ass straying to the cotton fields in the Kutch

Chital speeding across the road in Sasan Gir

Chital speeding across the road in Sasan Gir

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 21:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

Temples, Palaces and Wild Places

Off-the-beaten-track in Rajasthan

sunny 33 °C

Kumbhalgarh Fort

Kumbhalgarh Fort


Back in my home-away-from-home and spent a few frenetic days, eating, shopping, sourcing and drinking! Including a very respectable new brew pub in Gurgaon called Strykers. Had many many beers (Rock Bock being my fav) in honour of St Paddy. Also a lovely brunch at China Kitchen that included yummy peking duck. So much eating and drinking we were looking forward to a more subdued gastronomic pace on our road trip to Rajasthan and Gujarat. This did not turn out to be the case though!

Kumbhalgarh Fort & Ranakpur's Jain Temples

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March 19 saw us depart early for Udaipur, where we were picked up by our friend and escort CV Singh. We immediately struck out on the lovely drive to Kumbhalgarh Fort. The 36-kilometres of fort walls, perched 1100 meters high up on a hill is an imposing sight! The Araveli hills as a back drop for the passing green of Rajasthan, and dotted with the newly emerging brilliant orange of the flame-of-the-forest trees, makes for some of the prettiest countryside in India.

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Flame of the Forest from Ranakpur Temple

Flame of the Forest from Ranakpur Temple


After hiking up to the top of the 16th century Mewar fort and looking over the plains of western Rajasthan, we popped into the exquisite Jain temples in Ranakpur, which was a return visit for me. I think you'd have to visit a lot to not find something new to enjoy at these incredibly detailed and intricate Jain temples, first started in 1438. The entire main temple is covered inside and out with carvings, and no two columns of the 1444 inside pillars are the same. Fantastic!
In Ranakpur's Jain Temple

In Ranakpur's Jain Temple

Chanoud

Wedding paintings for Jai's marriage last November on the entry gate to Chanoud Garh

Wedding paintings for Jai's marriage last November on the entry gate to Chanoud Garh


A stop for lunch, and then a short drive to the tiny village of Chanoud, near Kenpura, where relatives of CV have spent three years carefully restoring their ancestral home and creating a beautiful boutique hotel. (www.facebook.com/hotelhanoudgarh)

Hallway in Hotel Chanoud Garh

Hallway in Hotel Chanoud Garh

The work Jai and his sister Swati have done here is wonderful. The best of the restored heritage hotels I’ve yet stayed in thus far. This is a true labour of love, and they’ve managed to strike a balance between modern luxurious comfort and character-filled authenticity from days gone by. Present of course are the fascinating old pictures of family from when the Raj was in its hey day. I love looking at these moments frozen in time and the stories they tell.

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Their home had suffered from generations of neglect so their work was cut out for them. They have painstakingly removed years of plaster off walls and stone, revealing beautiful carvings and uncovering murals. Each room has been created from the space, rather than making a space fit the room. Each room has also been colourfully decorated in a different palate, combining colours as only India seems able to do. The interior design was done by Swati, a former fabric designer from Mumbai, she returned home to help her brother see through his vision.

Our room

Our room

The rooms will all have separate names, but for now are numbered. Our room was bright and cheerful in turquoise, yellow and pink, with 3 separate alcove seating areas, and a nearby outdoor patio. On the 3rd floor, this room overlooked the central courtyard on one side and the village from the back windows where we were greeted by a peacock, posing on a village roof.

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CV stayed below us, in a room converted from the old stable that used to house an eccentric past Maharana’s favourite horses. He liked to have them close, so they were stabled below his sleeping quarters. That room was long and narrow, with padded alcoves cut into the former stall areas, hitching posts and all. We were shown several of the other rooms and none disappoint. Such a wonderful maze of corridors, rooms, alcoves and balconies. Rose-ringed Parakeets, spotted owlets and loads of peacocks living in, on, and aournd the property.

Spotted Owlet at Hotel Chanoud Garh

Spotted Owlet at Hotel Chanoud Garh

The food was similarily wonderful and complete with birthday cake for me on our first night. A lovely rum basted confection, following drinks on the courtyard balcony, entertained by a village dance and musician show. After dinner, we went up to the roof to watch the stars. Comfy pillows and mattresses were placed out for us to check out the night sky in comfort.

Rajasthani farmers with fab turbans

Rajasthani farmers with fab turbans


Dust storm at sunrise - can you see the sun?

Dust storm at sunrise - can you see the sun?

The next morning we were up early to watch the sun rise over the nearby hills, but, a dust storm had arrived. Was really different – looked rather like fog back home. By the time we actually spotted the sun rising above the dust, it was well into its rise. Interesting mood the dust made.

Salt flats

Salt flats

That night, we went out to the salt flats, which were rather like the Little Rann. The dust had not dispersed, which apparently is unusual, so our sunset was very similar to the sunrise. With the sun disappearing well before it vanished from the horizon.

Hotel Chanoudgarh central courtyard

Hotel Chanoudgarh central courtyard

Ravla Bhenswara

Ravla Bhenswara centre courtyard

Ravla Bhenswara centre courtyard

The next morning we were off to another heritage spot, off-the-beaten-track. Shiv Pratap Singh is a school-friend of CV’s and his resort, Ravla Bhenswara, is a mish-mash of rescued heritage building pieces, doors, walls and windows, all cobbled together to form this whimsical hotel, that has grown from the original 240-year-old family home. Lovely courtyards, winding staircases, balconies and passageways make the property extra fun. The passion and love for his home and Marwari heritage is evident in everything Shiv Pratap does. (http://www.hotelravlabhenswara.com/)

Sunset over the Eshrana mountain range

Sunset over the Eshrana mountain range

It’s a lovely resort on its own, but it was his larger-than-life personality and unbounded hospitality that was the star attraction for us. We were wined and dined till bursting, as he would take no pleas of being full as an excuse not to try the next delicacy. One night we had wonderful slow-cooked stew, which was then spread over roti, with chopped raw onion, toasted cumin and a squeeze of lime. Then you rip up your roti and sop up the lovely flavours. A very local dish, as were most of the dishes served here. Such a uniquely Indian and Marwari experience. Sandra did very well here (Mary, you will be impressed) since we didn’t eat dinner before midnight!

So full we were, that when our host asked us, after dinner, what we’d like for breakfast, I replied, “just a piece of toast.” To which he replied “pizza toast! we make a wonderful pizza toast!” It was really good but, mental note to self, next time just say “toast!”

Jungle Cat

Jungle Cat

Just before dusk, we would head out into the beautiful desert and hills of the Eshrana mountain range for a night safari, trying to spot leopards. We didn’t get any good sightings of the elusive but plentiful cat, but it was thought they were spotted. Bright green eye shine watched us from the hills and started walking toward us. We did see loads of birds, leopard cats, possibly a rusty spotted cat and fantastic owls. The monkeys that lived here certainly had had leopard encounters. They were clinging to the sides of boulders in a most-uncomfortable-looking bed for the night, being the only relatively secure spot from the big cat. I think It time for them to think about moving! Not a great life for a monkey here.

Desert Fox checking us out

Desert Fox checking us out

Shiv Pratap does these amazing animal calls, attempting to attract nearby predators. We saw a fox on the way out and trying to get him to return he started imitating fighting Indian Hares. Initially I thought we might be heading into the wilds of Rajasthan with a mad man! But, while the fox didn’t return, 2 dogs raced across the fields straight towards us, looking to catch the rabbits unawares. Pretty cool. Did a nifty imitation of a kid goat in distress too, which kept those green eyes attentive to us for quite a while.

Fantastic rock formations, Jay Leno anyone?

Fantastic rock formations, Jay Leno anyone?



In addition to the rolling hills, there are massive boulders, seemingly dropped here, as if from an iceage that make the countryside spectacularily beautiful. Stopping a few hours in, we would have a drink from a handy portable bar and check out the brilliant night stars, far from any glaring lights.

Having our sun-way-downers!

Having our sun-way-downers!

ON our second night we returned about 9:30pm and had a quick wash up. There were guests there that night, including the ‘Afghanistan Girl’s’ National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Photography royalty! Didn’t get to talk with him as he was just pointed out to me as he head to his room. A couple of very good musicians were performing in the courtyard that evening. They are part of long-serving generational family musicians to the family. They asked our names and where we were from, then launched into an improve song for us. CV translated as they sang….”Saaanndra, stay here forwever Sandra. Leesaaa, don’t go back to Canada. But if you must, come again soon, and bring lots of friends….” Too funny! Will likely always remember the song. It was really quite very inventive.

Eurasion Eagle Owl

Eurasion Eagle Owl

Udaipur

From our balcony on Lake Pichola

From our balcony on Lake Pichola

March 23rd saw us heading back to Udaipur for a couple of nights. We were staying at the Amet Haveli, which is also the place I had dinner on my 45th birthday with Chris. Fantastic 350-year-old haveli. We stayed in a lovely little suite, which had a lovely little balcony over Lake Pichola with views of the town, palace and Lake Palace Hotel. Also a bathtub large enough to sit in cross-legged! All baths should be so large! (http://www.amethaveliudaipur.com/)

Sandra at Amet Haveli

Sandra at Amet Haveli

CV was coming down with a brutal cold, so he trundled off home after having lunch with us. We then started a bit of a walking tour of the city. Stretching our legs on the hilly streets. We popped into the Tiger for sunset Kingfishers on the roof top, then back for dinner at Ambrai’s. We were given our old corner table – the best in the house and once again treated royally. The food here is fantastic, especially the Ambrai Special dishes. We had wonderful Ambrai Biryani loaded with cashews; the best mutton Sandra had ever had; and a wonderful medly of veg in a tomato curry. With of course the buttery and flakey naan. Being the New Year of the region, we were also treated to a fireworks show across the lake while we dined.

Hall of Mirrors in Udaipur Palace

Hall of Mirrors in Udaipur Palace

The next day we walked into the city and up to the Palace for a tour. It’s a wonderful palace, with amazing mirror and mosaic work. Then it was a stroll down to a ‘German Bakery’ for coffee and a quick bite, before heading to take a introductory course in the miniature painting techniques Udaipur is famous for.

Cricket on the rooftops!

Cricket on the rooftops!


Our artistic endeavous and workspace

Our artistic endeavous and workspace

Our “2 hour” class was quite a bit more pricey than the majority that are offered everywhere on the streets, but was with a renowned artist – Nirbay Raj Soni and actually lasted 4 hours. He was a fantastic teacher and we were both surprised by our end result. Not bad for beginners, if we say so ourselves. I chose a tiger as my subject… I know you’re all surprised by that! And Sandra chose an elephant. The work is done primarily with squirrel-hair brushes, that take quite a bit of practice to even begin to control. The paints are ground water-colour pigments, finely mixed to a silky smooth consistency and stabilized by sap from the Dhawrli (sp?) tree. Fun Fun Fun!!! Though we were both a bit stiff at the end of the day, being engrossed in our work for so long.

Lake Pichola from Udaipur Palace

Lake Pichola from Udaipur Palace

After our artiste explorations, we had a quick lime-soda and then back to the palace for an evening sound and light show on the family of Mewar. Mewar is the longest continually ruling dynasty in the world and has a proud and fascinating history. It is also the only kingdom, let alone Rajput kingdom that never invaded another’s lands. As fierce and formidable any other Rajput kingdom, it fought only in defence of its lands and people.

Udaipur Palace at the evening sound and light show

Udaipur Palace at the evening sound and light show

We didn’t get back to the hotel till 8:30, so picked up some snacks, had kingfisher beers ordered to the room and relaxed in our suite, then took a soak in the humongous tub – excellent day.

Elephant Fountain at the Garden of Maids

Elephant Fountain at the Garden of Maids

Our Rajasthan trip too soon coming to an end, we are off too see the Garden of Maids (Saheliyon Ki Bari), built for a Maharani in the 18th century. It was lovely, with beautiful fountains and cascading flowers. The fountains are all fed by gravity from the nearby Fateh Sagar Lake. Then hopping the bus to Gujarat, where this tale will continue...

Sandra dressing for the Garden of Maids

Sandra dressing for the Garden of Maids

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 22:03 Archived in India Tagged heritage udaipur rajasthan chanoud_garh ravla_bhenswara Comments (1)

LIONS and TIGERS and BEARS! OH MY!!

Wildlife watching in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh

sunny 20 °C

You have no idea how 'geekily' excited I was to be able to use this title! Drove my friends crazy with my excitement. Might have had them a tad worried about my sanity along the way too!

A bit late in posting, but, this blog takes up where I last left off – still in Gujarat, and about to head to the forests… finally. It was the longest period I’d been in India without a forest fix and I was really ready for it. It was fairly long drive to reach Sasan, and a later start to the day, so we broke it up with a stop at a lovely new homestay, just 1-2 hours (depending on traffic) outside Ahmedabad. Happily, Tigu, or Bugs as he is also known, is a big wildlifer and well-connected in the parks.

Pair of little Minivets darting back and forth in Sasan Gir.

Pair of little Minivets darting back and forth in Sasan Gir.

The old family home is rather like a sprawling southwest hacienda. Tigu and his wife Neelanjali were wonderful hosts who live and work in Ahmedabad during the week, but come down here each weekend to join the rest of the family. Tigu also operates a NGO in Ahmedabad – a hospital to take care of injured wildlife in and around the city.

Chital chewing on an old antler.  They, and other animals, eat them for added mineral and calcium nutrients.

Chital chewing on an old antler. They, and other animals, eat them for added mineral and calcium nutrients.

We took a trek into the surrounding farmland fields as the sun set and finally saw my first blackbucks after many attempts! Beautiful and fast antelopes with elegant spiraling horns and black and white coat on the males. Tigu arranged a guide for us in Sasan Gir, which turned out to be a blessing about which I’ll elaborate later, as well as arranged our stay in the Gujarati-run forest guest house in Velavadar. Such excellent contacts to have as it turns out! Gujarat has many plusses, but tourism infrastructure is not one of them. Without ‘fixers’ or people in the know, or established tour companies/resorts it is rather challenging to visit some of the areas, in particular the National Parks.

Blackucks in Velavadar

Blackucks in Velavadar

After dinner, we sat out in the backyard, exchanging wildlife stories, while bats flew overhead and a couple of spotted owls dashed from tree to tree on the hunt. Such a great spot to stop before heading to Gir.

Tough day in the jungle.

Tough day in the jungle.

Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary

Gir is home to the last population of Asiatic Lions in the world. This is fairly problematic, since any disease could wipe this population out -- they are very crowded in a relatively small single area. Over 400 lions, 89 males, are in a 1400-square-kilometre area. There have been attempts to move some lions to other states and parks, in particular by Madhya Pradesh, but the Government of Gujarat has successfully resisted this so far. As far as self-interest goes, it is a good idea. If MP got Asiatic Lions, they would have all the big cats in their state, effectively cornering the safari market. Gujarat is planning to relocate lions to another forest within the state, but these plans have been on the drawing board for some time without solid progress. Something will have to be done soon though, I’ve never seen such scarred lions, nor such few prey in a park.

Their fur is also different from the African lion.  More variation with darker tipped hairs

Their fur is also different from the African lion. More variation with darker tipped hairs

In recent years, lions have been found roaming outside the park in search of food and territory. There are also an estimated 400 leopards also in the park, which seems a likely number since we had several brief sightings, or near sightings of this normally elusive animal.

Tribal herders are still living inside the park, which was different for me. The local maaldhari herders are a devout, nomadic tribal peoples. The government apparently compensates the herders for cattle lost to lions, unless the cattle is killed in areas of the park they are not allowed. Not sure about Gujarat, but in other similar situation with tiger compensation for cattle killing, the money often arrives months late and substantially reduced by the various forest officials and beaurocrats it passes through the hands of.

Scratching an itch!

Scratching an itch!

We arrived at the government lodge – Sinh Sadan – to find the repeated requests, faxes and phone calls for accommodation by the frustrated, but diligent, local travel agent, were essentially ignored. We knew there was an issue, since the forest lodge refused to ‘guarantee’ the booking, “in case VIPs turned up.” Apparently, even if we’d gained lodging, if a VIP and entourage subsequently turned up, we’d be turfed out! This was my first run-in with the issues the facing Gujarati tourism.

Lioness relaxing in the forest

Lioness relaxing in the forest

So, with a smile, but no head-wag, the decidedly unhelpful man at the reception desk informed us that maybe he’d be able to give us two rooms for that night, but not for the rest of the 4 nights, since they were completely booked. While Sinh Sadan is not that good a value for foreigners, it is very cheap accommodation for Indians. The big advantage is, you are automatically assigned one of the 30 jeep slots for park entry if you stay there, and it is where all daily permits into the park are issued. There is no on-line booking for jeeps, nor is there any reservation system. Like Tadoba, you must line up early before each drive to try for an entry.

Smallest chital fawn I think I've seen.  Immediately hid in the brush when we arrived, as mum anxiously poked her head to look at us.

Smallest chital fawn I think I've seen. Immediately hid in the brush when we arrived, as mum anxiously poked her head to look at us.

We ended up staying at the Anil Farmhouse, which was also ridiculously overpriced for the value, but, we had lovely balconies overlooking the river from which to have a pre-dinner alcoholic beverage, safely hidden from public view. It was especially good because on one night we were chatting and a rustling noise came from below. Peering over the balcony we spotted a hyena! My first such sighting of these notoriously shy and nocturnal Indian animals. They are solitary, unlike their pack-cousins in Africa. Very exciting!

Amazing collection of birds at the dam in Gir.  Grey Heron, Cormorants, Pied Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher and Peacocks

Amazing collection of birds at the dam in Gir. Grey Heron, Cormorants, Pied Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher and Peacocks

Meals came with our package, but were underwhelming. Especially when the lodge filled up with Gujarati vegetarians and we were asked not to have dinner in the dining hall, or to come very early, so as not to offend these guests. Had our dinner, hiding in shame on my balcony, after also consuming our shameful pre-dinner drink. Such heathens are we! Also underwhelming was the lack of tea or coffee or even hot water before our park drives in the morning. They made it two of the mornings, but the other two, nowhere to be seen. We even offered to make our own if they’d give us a kettle, but no kettle. Sigh… wouldn’t really care but at the 4500 INR per night (and that’s with a 10% discount) they need to step it up! The biggest plus about Anil though, was our driver for the safaris – Honia. He was incredibly diligent, reliable and knowledgeable about the park. Getting up early at about 4am to get in line and ensure our entry.

Lovely family, including 3 cubs.

Lovely family, including 3 cubs.

We had 5 drives in the park, and lions each time! On our first sighting, it was a pride of lionesses and cubs at a kill. 7 lions we saw that time, including a prolonged time with two lionesses and three cubs. Beautiful! They are completely unphased by people, in a jeep or on foot. The park rangers show up fairly quickly after a sighting is made, and walk around with only a big stick, moving people in and out of position for a photo op. Good in the sense that it spares the lions the crazed crowding and antics you might see at Bandhavgarh or Ranthambhore, but makes it a bit tame. A little more like seeing lions at African Lion Safari in Toronto, than in the wild.

Two lone males in the early morning.

Two lone males in the early morning.

Our third drive however, saw us alone and coming upon two males. This was for me the best sighting we had, and we were able to stay with them for quite a bit. The poor boys though, they were so beat up! Walking along in the same zone we had seen the lionesses with cubs the previous day, we assumed they had come across this pride and tangled with the protective lionesses.

Nothing like your brother after a tough night!

Nothing like your brother after a tough night!

It was very early in the morning, and at one point, one came up to his brother who was lying on the ground, and rubbed his face against his. The expression was so weary… you could just see him thinking, man, that was one hell of a night. He was the more beat up of the two, and on top of his facial cuts, was limping a bit as well.

The most beat up of the brothers

The most beat up of the brothers

We skipped a drive one afternoon and went for a walk actually inside the park. Not sure this was kosher, but there are so many farms and holes in the walls of the park, I think it’s a pretty common occurance. The Teak trees have all started to lose their foilage, so the large dry leaves don’t make for very quiet trekking. We were crunching along and came upon a small group of langurs. One dropped to the ground, and keeping one eye on us, carefreely bounded along the forest floor. Then, he came to an abrupt stop, turned about, and took off at a speed unlike anything I’d seen before. He’d come face-to-face with a leopard lying in the grass! Such a streak of light he was, and not even a warning call. It was every monkey for himself! Rather reminded me of George Costanza at the party when fire broke out and took off, bowling over the children and old people!

We tried to catch up with the leopard, but really, we sounded like a herd of elephants walking through the dry leaves, it was a pretty futile attempt. Still, found the spot he’d been laying and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ‘moment’ Fast monkey!

Love those first sun rays on a winter morning!

Love those first sun rays on a winter morning!

Anil Farmhouse only had 4 nights available to us, so we thought we’d see if Sinh Sadan had had a cancellation. We arrived, and the same super-helpful desk man informed us, if only we had booked it when we arrived he could have accommodated us. Huh? You said it was booked the rest of the week! Wouldn’t mind so much, except again, no head wag! Yeesh!!

Velavadar National Park

Beautiful red, green and gold fields weren't enough, must add in colourful ladies at work.

Beautiful red, green and gold fields weren't enough, must add in colourful ladies at work.

Decided to head to Velavadar a bit early, which was a bit of a drive, so after the morning safari we popped up to Bhavnagar for the night at Hotel Sun n Shine, so we could get an early start to Velavadar. This hotel is apparently one of the best in Bhavnagar, and wasn’t bad, but nothing to get excited about. At 2000INR per night for each room, including breakfast, was actually a pretty good deal. My room was pretty musty and stale-smoke-smelly; the shower sprayed everywhere in the bathroom except me; and the black mold probably wasn’t so good, but it was sort-of clean, and the sheets looked washed, and the breakfast was fabulous! Redeemed the stay, so would have to say, overall, good value for money.

Large blackbuck herd crossing our path in the early morning hours.

Large blackbuck herd crossing our path in the early morning hours.

We were looking forward to the Gujarat forest guest house in Velavadar, mostly for the quiet dark nights you usually get in such places, but were uncertain about the food situation. So, we stopped to get some fruit to tide us over. I was about to get out of the car and join the purchase party, when I was told “you can’t leave the car! The price of bananas will triple!” So for any of you 'foreigners' out there, 12 bananas should cost about 30INR ($0.60) – as long as your face isn’t seen that is!

Leapfrog anyone?

Leapfrog anyone?

The forest lodge was very basic, with a bunch of ants for company and musty bedclothes. no biggie cause it is a 'forest' guesthouse, but foreigners are charged US$50 (about 2500INR) while Indians are charged 500INR. Usually don’t mind this type of two-tier system, but it was a pretty big difference, and very overpriced. My room was apparently better than CVs, so guess I should count myself lucky! Then came the meal. Same meal, very basic and not too great – US$7 for me (350INR) 50INR for Indians. Same food! Considering the fabulous 60 rupee thali plate Remy and I got at the basic restaurant in Champaner, this was ridiculous. All in all, I’d say that Gujarat’s government tourism is probably the worst thing about Gujarat tourism. Not great if you're trying to increase tourism beyond hard-core animal lovers... (smile) head-wag!

Loads of Nilgai in the park

Loads of Nilgai in the park

Then the VIP showed up! All the lights went on, the staff were running around kow-towing to the minister, the TV went on (full volume), and our peaceful stargazing forest night went out the window. However, there's usually always a way to salvage a situation -- I snuck up to the roof after midnight, and had a blissful 40-odd minutes stargazing and dreaming in peace after the lights (and TV) went out. We did have a bit of a chuckle, having our covert drink on the roof and watching said gov’t official talking loudly on his cell phone below. A Nilgai ambled from the grass nearby him. He was so startled he went running (and I mean running) for his room. Quite funny -- this man is the chief representative of the wildlife parks in Gujarat.

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But, moving on from the accomodation review, the highlight and overwhelming wonderful focus of this part of the trip, was Velavadar National Park. This small, 34 square-kilometer untravelled park was beyond wonderful. Beautiful grasslands of red and gold and green teaming with life. The majestic Nilgai, in large herds; the elegant blackbuck, keen to show off their graceful leaps; crazy numbers of harriers – the largest nesting ground of harriers – nicely landing, hunting and flying for us; then there were marshy wetlands filled with birds of all sort, including beautiful eagles, pelicans, ducks...

Pallid Harrier's giving us a lovely flight show.

Pallid Harrier's giving us a lovely flight show.

Our cameras seemed never to stop, as we kept trying to capture the perfect flight photo of the pallid, marsh and montague harriers. Not to mention the mid-leap beauty of the blackbuck antelope. The mature males have incredible spiraling horns, that can reach 65cm. Wonderful stop on the trip.

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Was photographing this beautiful eagle when a flock of bird rose up behind him.  Wonderful sight!

Was photographing this beautiful eagle when a flock of bird rose up behind him. Wonderful sight!


Large eagle on the lakefront.

Large eagle on the lakefront.


Harrier

Harrier


Pallid Harrier carrying a huge bug for dinner.  Consensus says... dragonfly?

Pallid Harrier carrying a huge bug for dinner. Consensus says... dragonfly?


Snakebird

Snakebird

The Little Rann of Kutch

The cracked flats of the Little Rann of Kutch

The cracked flats of the Little Rann of Kutch

Leaving these wonderful plains, we head off to our final park. And yet another completely different environment. The Little Rann of Kutch. On the way we passed a dead cow, with long-billed vultures, at least 20 white-backed vultures (endangered so good to see so many) and Eurasion Griffons. Demoiselle cranes were flying noisily overhead as well, heading to the Little Rann.

At least 20, very endangered white-backed vultures, chased away from a cow carcass by the hungry village dogs!

At least 20, very endangered white-backed vultures, chased away from a cow carcass by the hungry village dogs!

I’ve often talked about the fun signs you see while driving through India. Well, turns out the written signage in Hindi is also often amusing. Hindi is a phonetic script, each character having a very specific sound. Apparently, many of the Hindi signs spell out English words. We passed one freight truck that announced to the world it was a ferret carrier! Interesting freight! Think I better concentrate more on learning the Hindi script!

Three different vulture species sitting in a tree... k.i.s.s.i.n.g....

Three different vulture species sitting in a tree... k.i.s.s.i.n.g....

We arrived in the Little Rann to a wonderful lodge – Rann Riders. There’s not much accommodation in the area, so is good that this lodge doesn’t rely on competition to keep up a wonderful property. The huts are spread out among the garden and are designed like the local tribal mud huts. Very comfortable, with the ubiquitous Gujarati swing outside my door. The dining hall too was a wonderful relaxing place. Low cushioned benches, trestle tables, and mirror-work studded clay walls made the place very atmospheric and comfortable.

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Pallid Harrier in the desert

Pallid Harrier in the desert

We did 3 safaris into the 4953-square-kilometer Little Rann Sanctuary, which is a time-losing, vast, dry, flat and barren landscape with an incredible beauty all of its own. Cracked earth is alternately gold or white, depending on the angle of the sun, and punctuated by succulent cacti and acacia scrub. During the monsoon, the desert apparently turns into a sea of mud. You really do lose time here. There is often no visible landmark as you race across the dusty flats in search of life.

Many discussions and many weigh-ins about the identity of this falcon, till it was put to rest by Shukra, the best authority in all India!  Shaheen Peregrine Falcon it be!

Many discussions and many weigh-ins about the identity of this falcon, till it was put to rest by Shukra, the best authority in all India! Shaheen Peregrine Falcon it be!


Shaheen Peregrine falcon

Shaheen Peregrine falcon

Tammy Faye move on over!  Beautiful short-eared owl, one of about eight we came across nesting on the ground in the early morning.

Tammy Faye move on over! Beautiful short-eared owl, one of about eight we came across nesting on the ground in the early morning.


Short-eared owl in flight

Short-eared owl in flight

The Rann is home to India’s last wild population of the khur or Asiatic wild ass as well as a host of birds, including a natural breeding ground for flamingoes and other desert animals. The area is also a source of salt, which is farmed by pumping up ground water.

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Wildass on the run, kicking up the dust!

Wildass on the run, kicking up the dust!

We lucky enough to see a hoopoe lark couple. Incredibly difficult to see or find, in no small part because of the natural camouflage it has blending into the cracked earth. The male was in full mating pursuit of the seemingly ambivalent female. He was strutting along, tail high, and then he’d make a piercing whistle, and jump straight up into the air, wings splayed in a beautiful arc back to the ground. CV and our driver were so patient with me, as I tried to capture this event, which occurred far in the distance, with a nebulous focal-point. When I finally compiled the photos of one, almost fully captured arc, I noticed he landed behind his starting point. Watching him do the display, it didn’t seem like that. It seemed more like a full arc. Wonderful!

Hoopoe lark fanning his tailfeathers for his mate.

Hoopoe lark fanning his tailfeathers for his mate.


Hoopoe Lark

Hoopoe Lark


Wonderful mating display of the Hoopoe Lark.

Wonderful mating display of the Hoopoe Lark.

Another Little Rann highlight - McQueen's Bustard

Another Little Rann highlight - McQueen's Bustard


McQueen's Bustard in flight

McQueen's Bustard in flight

On our last outing we were searching for the desert fox, and found the poor little guy, and his mate. She very smartly disappeared into the scrub and laid low. He unfortunately took off, with us in hot pursuit, screeching to a halt near him and snapping pictures as he darted away. Didn’t do that for long though. Could imagine the energy he expended trying to escape us, so took pity on the panting little guy and stayed put. He was so beautiful! Just how you’d imagine a fox should look. Sleek and red, with a large and luxurious bushy tail. Not at all like the ones we see in the urban landscape of Toronto.

Desert fox fleeing to a safe distance before posing.

Desert fox fleeing to a safe distance before posing.


Posing at a safe distance!

Posing at a safe distance!

Gujarati holiday done, it was back to Delhi for a quick turn around, laundering the clothes and then out to Panna and Ken River Lodge in Madhya Pradesh. Met up with my friends -- Jennifer from the UK, and Trigun, Shukra, Bhavna and Vini for a wonderful week.

Lovely bushchat posing on the succulent plant that provides the main nourishment and water for the wildass.

Lovely bushchat posing on the succulent plant that provides the main nourishment and water for the wildass.

Panna Tiger Reserve

The Ken River

The Ken River

It was so cold in Panna, I was not quite prepared for it. Haven’t stayed this long in India before, but still, hasn’t been much later last year. In the morning, I had 4 tops layered on, and then my pashmina and gumsha. Plus a blanket over the legs. Frickin cold! Needed my Canadian gear! Had to get the quilt off the second bed in my room to double up at night! Wussie Canadian girl!!

Indian Roller flies by

Indian Roller flies by


Grey-headed Fish Eagle, looking for dinner in the #4 pond

Grey-headed Fish Eagle, looking for dinner in the #4 pond

Panna has seen a resurgence of tigers of late – cubs from the two relocated females, as well a few more transplants, so the park was quite different. Much busier and more of a focus on tracking tigers. I arrived late and met Trigun, Shukra and Jen as they were heading in for a safari, so I hopped out of my car and into the jeep mid-road. Was a good thing I did too! As we were sitting quietly, a mother balou (sloth bear) and her two almost-grown cubs ambled across the road and quickly hid in the forest! As we approached closer, the mum popped her head up to take a look at us, then one cub appeared over her left shoulder and the other over her right. Was quite fun to see.

Mama bear watching us from the safety of the forest.

Mama bear watching us from the safety of the forest.

Dragonfly siloutte against the waxing moon

Dragonfly siloutte against the waxing moon


Had not seen a Hoopoe in flight before.  And I thought they were a beautiful bird before!

Had not seen a Hoopoe in flight before. And I thought they were a beautiful bird before!

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We spent so much time fruitlessly tracking the tigers, only to have them appear around the corner to another jeep, that we decided to head up to the vulture gorge and forgo the tiger tracking. As we were driving along the river, the alarm calls sounded. Chital, Nilgai, peacock, sambar and Langur on both sides of the river. The langur calls were quite frantic, so we thought leopard, and yep. A beautiful and large male appeared out of the bush, across the river from us. Quite far, but very clear. He meandered in and out of the scrub, following the river. Stopping to stare at a couple of peacocks.

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Looking ahead, we could see a wildboar haplessly going about his business, when the leopard cleared the bush in front of him and climbed a log. They stared at each other for a few tense moments, while the baby wildboar disappeared into the bush. Once they were the clear, the boar turned and followed.

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Deciding the meal wasn’t really within his grasp, he stretched out on the log and enjoyed the sunshine. He stayed with us for 20 minutes before disappearing into the trees.
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Serene langur moment

Serene langur moment


Honey Badger don't care!!  Pugmarks for a honey badger.

Honey Badger don't care!! Pugmarks for a honey badger.

Our second last drive, was also not a tracking expedition, and as we were leaving the old village meadow, the sun was disappearing and we were heading for the gate, we came across the two twenty-month old cubs of Bithri, or T1 as she’s now known. She was the first tiger I saw in the wild, so this was personally pretty special for me. Both handsome boys were lying in the grass and we stretched out our time with them as far as we could, going well past dark. Lions n tigers n bears! Oh My!

Bithri Boy

Bithri Boy

On the way to Bandhavgarh. Must have been a good monsoon!  Sunset over a ..... field?

On the way to Bandhavgarh. Must have been a good monsoon! Sunset over a ..... field?

Bandhavgarh National Park

Out of the woods, comes the Sukhi Patiha cub

Out of the woods, comes the Sukhi Patiha cub

After 14 drives in Panna, it was off for a few drives in Bandhavgarh. I had left last May very excited about the park, but in actuality nothing has changed that much. You still have a ridiculously long route to complete. Last May, since it was the off-season, we were able to just do part of the route, but not at this time. Still, on our second drive, as we were finishing our route at the Sukie dam, we came across a tiger on the road. It was the young 2-year-old Sukiepatir male cub, who has been making moves into the Tala zone we were in.

Taking in the smells!

Taking in the smells!

Was a typical Bandhavgarh start to the sighting though. He was walking on the road and two jeeps were trailing him, with another in front. One of the jeeps trailing him started revving his engine to get him to turn his head. Idiot! Jen and I got so mad at the insensitivity of this. The tiger just left the road, moving into the bush. While the ‘Idiot’ was scanning the bush, we moved ahead and saw him cross a meadow, so positioned ourselves where the guides thought he’d emerge. The ‘Idiot’ started up on us, so we pretended we were scanning the sky for wire-tailed swallows, not letting what we'd noticed. Can’t be good karma, but felt good!!

He's not unhappy with me, honest!  It's a Flehman's Response.

He's not unhappy with me, honest! It's a Flehman's Response.

Then he came out! So close to us he was, marking a bush, and then inhaling the scent with a snarly expression from the flehmans reaction, just like our house cats. They also use the extra scent organ at the back of the tongue and looks like they’re snarling, but not really. He then ambled across the road, calm as could be, and wandered off into the meadow against the setting sun. Lovely!

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Nice short visit to Bandhavgarh this trip and was excited to find all of the photography books I’d printed to help raise money for the tiger protection iniatives of my friends at Pugdundee Safaris had sold! Next step will be to look for a publisher/printer who will create them at a more affordable rate so it can be a sustainable endeavour.

Traffic jam in the Kutch

Traffic jam in the Kutch

Wonderful last month of wildlife, and just like that it was back in TO and working on the next trip. April/May/June is the best time for photographing wildlife in many of the parks in India, and I’ll be heading back to take advantage of this in mid-March. The intense heat drives wildlife to water, which dramatically increases your sighting chances. It allows you to see farther into the jungles and forests than you do in the cooler months, when the vegetation is dense and full. However, luck is king and the wonderful adventures described in this blog entry took place in the cooler months, which offers its own unique and wonderful attractions. All that being said, I will be starting to formally arrange to bring people to India with me, and to these wonderful parks. The focus will be on small groups, always accompanied by excellent naturalists, which I’ve found is crucial to getting the most out of your experience and dollar, as well as being the most hit-n-miss aspect of safaris.

My business partner, Sandra and I have been hard at work setting up our new company. A website and more information will be coming before we hit the road again.

Wishing everyone glorious and adventure-filled travel!! arm-chair, or otherwise!

Wildass walking on the horizon

Wildass walking on the horizon

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 12:33 Archived in India Tagged eagle tiger leopard harrier gujarat indian_roller panna bandhavgarh asiatic_lion sasan_gir blackbuck hoopoe_lark wildass desert_fox hoopoe gir little_rann_of_kutch mcqueens_bustard short_eared_owl Comments (2)

Amazing Ahmedabad!

Fun with Textiles, History and Gujarati Thalis!

sunny 27 °C

Rani Ki Wav Step Well

Rani Ki Wav Step Well

My first foray to Gujarat, started off in and around Ahmedabad! First order of business? Getting our alcohol permit! Gujarat is a dry state, on account’a it being the birthplace of Ghandi. Ironically, Gujarat is apparently also the largest consumer per capita of alcohol in India. The permit acquiring was quite the adventure! Step one in the process; get a letter from the hotel verifying that we were indeed staying with them. A stay of at least one week is required to get the permit, which really cuts down on the desire of expats to make weekend trips to the state unfortunately. Then we were taken by our lovely driver Vikram, to the Residency Hotel, which sells alcohol, and provides the permits.

Sign in our hotel elevator! Hmmmm....

Sign in our hotel elevator! Hmmmm....


Arriving to the hotel, we were taken around back, down a dubious dark broken concrete ramp into the basement, which also seemed to double as a woodshop of some sort. The packed liquor store was more a room than a store fronting a second stock room piled with alcohol. The front room contained two desks, various price lists, and also lots of alcohol, which was being parcelled up and shipped out at an incredible rate, while at the same time, a steady stream of new supplies were being schlepped in by two delivery men. There were the obligatory two men hanging out that didn’t seem to have any function, two men working at the selling side, and one official excise fellow who was not at all impressed with us – two, obviously amoral women, especially Remy, who is Indian by heritage. He gave her a bit of a hard time at first, until he saw her passport – Singapore he exclaimed out loud, as if that explained all. We were then sent back up into the respectable part of the hotel to get our passport and visa pages photocopied. Back down into place where bad people go, where he filled in a form, had us fill in a form, then we filled in a ledger book, then he filled in our permit, stamped our passport and charged us 100 rupes! Yay, now we can drink again! And now we really wanted to!!!

In the Utensil Museum at Vishala

In the Utensil Museum at Vishala


After buying beverages, we went to the Sewa Society a women’s fair trade organization with exquisite craft work from the area. Gujarat is famous for its textiles, mirror work, embroidery and crafts and the quality here was superb! Then off on another adventure trying to find an ATM that would give us more than $20 and finally off to Vishala for dinner.

Gujarati textiles at the Law Garden Night Market

Gujarati textiles at the Law Garden Night Market


Vishala is set in a lovely large garden that was lit throughout by tea lights and lanterns. It also houses the Utensil Museum, which was far more interesting than I’d imagined it would be. Beautiful pots and pans, hookahs, nutcrackers, and any and all assorted kitchen equipment imaginable, including a 1000-year-old pressure-cooker pot.

1000-year-old Pressure Cooker

1000-year-old Pressure Cooker


I’m finding that English is not spoken as much in Gujarat as in other areas in India. So sad for us, because the food was sooo good, and completely different from any of India’s multi-cuisines had to date – we would have loved to know more than we were able to garner from the super-helpful staff who tried their best to answer our inadequate attempts at being understood.

Our starter thali at Vishala

Our starter thali at Vishala


After checking out the utensils, we were off to eat our huge Gujarati Thali dinner (for under 600 rupees – about C$12) on mats spread out on the floor before lovely rough wood tables. Our meal started with a huge array of starters – salad items, pickles, veggies, sprouts, masala powders, jaggery (palm sugar), beans, chutneys… so good! Especially the very spicy garlic chutney, which Remy bought 5 packets of at the end and I believe has completely used up already.

Wonderful, all-you-can-eat Gujarati Thali at Vishala

Wonderful, all-you-can-eat Gujarati Thali at Vishala


Then the pressed leaf plates were brought out and the Gujarati Thali food kept coming. Wonderful dishes that didn’t faintly resemble anything I’ve eaten in India yet. It was quite spicy (and would have had Sandra’s nose running almost immediately), with a hint of sweet and sour. There was kadhi – a fabulous buttermilk soup-like curry that I must find a recipe for and is Gujarat’s daal; 3 kinds of roti served with a nice pot of ghee (butter) you’re meant to spread onto the hot breads; khichdi – a fabulous rice and lentil type of porridge that was served with melted ghee poured onto; halwa and a jalebi (poured batter fried in wonderful shapes and soaked in a sugar and rose syrup) that was the best I’ve had. It was also slightly sour, unlike the purely oversweet-for-my-palate ones I’ve had to date. The drinks too were an experience – terracotta tumblers of water and buttermilk. I’ve never liked buttermilk before, and neither has Rem, but we both agreed… delish! Especially with the spicy food. Had two cups!

We were so full we had to skip the ice-cream, which is supposed to be amongst the best of this specialty of Ahmedabad, and could only eat one masala date! And all for under 500 rupees!

Champaner & Pavagadh

Jami Masjid in Champaner

Jami Masjid in Champaner


The next morning we were off for a road trip! Couldn’t believe it!! 150km to Champaner from Ahbmedabad and it took only 2 hours!!!!!!! That’s unheard of in the India I know. Usually, I’ll estimate travel time here at least double the time at home, so 100km takes just under an hour at home, takes just over 2 hours in India. And that’s only if the roads are considered ‘good’. The roads thus far in Gujarat are great. Not just in the condition of the asphalt, which is wonderful, but, no cows, water buffaloes or goats; no villages to go through – the highways at least bypass them completely; and all along, divided by a beautiful hedgerows of tuber-roses, bougainvillea and a few others I can’t identify – lovely.

Meridian along Gujarat highway

Meridian along Gujarat highway


The drive took us to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Champaner and Pavagadh. Set in a lovely and dense forest, the ruins of Champaner were once the capital of Gujarat from 1485. The walls and gates of this fortress city are crumbling but several beautiful mosques still survive – so many mosques in such a small area. This medieval city was suddenly abandoned in the early 1500s when the Moghul emperor Humayun attacked the city.

Jami Masjid in Champaner

Jami Masjid in Champaner


Tree of Life carved lattice window in Jami Masjid

Tree of Life carved lattice window in Jami Masjid


Latice Tree of Life window at the Jami Masjid

Latice Tree of Life window at the Jami Masjid


Kamani Masjid

Kamani Masjid


Rising up as a backdrop to Champaner is Pavagadh. Pavagadh is a massive hill reaching 850 metres up. It rises so suddenly from the surrounding plains it caused both of us to reach for our cameras. The earliest references to this site are 1022AD and it remained a Hindu and Rajput fortress till the mid-1400s. We took a cable car to the top of the hill, while other hearty souls made the trek up on foot – and the views were stunning.

Temple on top of Pavagadh hill

Temple on top of Pavagadh hill


Decorative Donkeys at top of Pavagadh Hill

Decorative Donkeys at top of Pavagadh Hill


Only in India do you paint the supporting cable towers in a multitude of colours. Why don’t we do this? In combination with the different coloured cable cars it reminded me of the brightly dressed Rajasthani women working the fields in their saris.

Colourful cable car to Pavagadh

Colourful cable car to Pavagadh


Was a long day, so back to rest, shower and change before dinner, with a pre-dinner drink in the room… which we are allowed to drink! On accounta our permits!

Colourful black ibis at a step-well garden

Colourful black ibis at a step-well garden


Dinner was at “the place” in Ahmedabad for Thalis – the House of MG’s rooftop restaurant Agashiya. The building is a heritage one, and very beautiful. We opted for the deluxe Thali meal at 600R. The meal on the roof of the hotel was beautifully atmospheric, except for the constant horns of the busy street the hotel is on. We had a lovely dinner, but, was underwhelming after Vishala’s meal. Still, lovely night and good food.

Footless Langur in Champaner

Footless Langur in Champaner

CalicoTextiles Museum

Next day was the famed Calico Textiles Museum. The textiles of the place were outstanding. Detailed embroidery so fine you would swear they were painted on. Pin-prick tie-dying so closing knotted (16 per square centimetre) you had to come very close to see the incredible detail. To think someone individually picked up each tiny piece of cloth and tied it with waxed thread before dying, in what seemed like hundreds of thousands of points to show an incredible pattern on the kurta (tunic) is unbelievable.

One of the most famous and difficult double ikat sari patterns

One of the most famous and difficult double ikat sari patterns


The museum is laid out in a beautiful old haveli, with loads of intricate wood carvings at least 300 years old. The gardens are equally impressive, but sadly no pictures were allowed. In fact no bags, water, cellphones or cameras were allowed.

Dyed threads ready for ikat weaving

Dyed threads ready for ikat weaving


But fabulous textiles aside, the whole process was an interesting one... Only 20 people are allowed in each morning for the tour. You are shepparded along with abrupt martiality through the museum. Our guide was a severe woman, who brooked no loitering. It was rather sad because the incredible array of beauty, skill and art begged to be lingered over. We learned later that at least some of the pieces there were literally stolen from their owners, who had leant them to be ‘examined’ by the museum. Course, this is heresy as well, but enough to make me go hmmmm…

Patan Patola Double Ikat Sari Weaving

Double-Ikat weaving

Double-Ikat weaving


Patan Patola sari warp threads

Patan Patola sari warp threads


The next day we hit the road again, this time to Patan, to see the double ikat weavings of the patola saris. The Salvi family have been doing this, in this location, since the 1100s, when they migrated from Maharashtra. Amazing to be able to trace your family back so effortlessly. Double ikat weaving is done by dying both the warp and weft threads BEFORE weaving them together, on a traditional handloom, to form the patterns. Each silk thread is painstakingly measured, tied, dyed and then retied and redyed for as many times as necessary for the number of colours required to create the pattern. A double ikat sari takes two people 4-6 months to complete. They are the last family in the area to still be doing this incredible labour intensive art. We met the two elder brothers, and two sons working at their shop. They were even shooting a documentary on the process and I had to talk about what I thought of the visit and what I had learned! So if you’re ever in Patan and visit once their museum is finished (in the next year or two), you may see me in their documentary!

Tyng the threads for dying

Tyng the threads for dying


Tied threads ready for dying

Tied threads ready for dying

Rani Ki Wav Stepwell

Rani Ki Wav step well

Rani Ki Wav step well


After spending a couple of hours with the Salvi family, we stopped at Patan’s Rani Ki Wav step well, which is considered the oldest and finest in Gujarat. The step wells are amazing here. So intricate and beautiful. This one was built in the last quarter of the 11th century by the Queen of Bhimdeva I and dedicated to Vishnu. In the inner sanctum of the well, there is a reclining carving of Vishnu – Shesh Shaya.

Sheysh Shaya at the Rani Ki Wav step well

Sheysh Shaya at the Rani Ki Wav step well


It remained covered in silt for many centuries, which kept it remarkably preserved, before being uncovered in 1958. One of the largest of its kind, it is 27 meters deep and covered with intricate carvings all the way down as you descend to the cool lower levels.

Rani Ki Wav step well

Rani Ki Wav step well


Rani Ki Wav Step Well

Rani Ki Wav Step Well


Handless Langur at step well - what's up with Gujarat's Langurs?

Handless Langur at step well - what's up with Gujarat's Langurs?

Modhera Sun Temple

Sabha Mandap at the Modhera Sun Temple

Sabha Mandap at the Modhera Sun Temple


We also stopped at Modhera’s Sun Temple, which was smaller than the one in Orissa, which it predates by 200 years. Built by King Bhimdev I in 1026 it is similarly laid out so the sunrise shines on the sun-god Surya’s image. It also had an elaborate stepwell fronting the temple – the Surya Kund – containing over 100 shrines to Ganesh, Vishnu and incarnations of Shiva. Amazingly lovely, after Rani ki Wav it seemed almost plain, which is funny cause without Patan, it would be the most amazing stepwell I’ve ever seen.

Carvings at the Modhera Sun Temple

Carvings at the Modhera Sun Temple


Modhera Sun Temple pillars

Modhera Sun Temple pillars

Adalaj Stepwell

Finally before reaching the city we visited yet another stepwell, the Adalaj Wav, built in 1499 by Queen Rudabai. It was being strung up with lights and scaffolding, getting ready for a local festival the next day. Throngs of people were also gathering ready for the festivities. Similar to Rani ki Wav, it was beautifully and elaborately carved all the way down to the dark bottom.

Adalaj Step-Well

Adalaj Step-Well


Stepwells were of huge importance to the often drought-stricken areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan. These incredible structures are only found in northwestern India and those who build them are venerated in many Hindu scriptures, so in this region they must be akin to building churches in the medieval Christian world. Of course being India, the practical and hugely important water storage facilities were also turned into beautiful works of art, from simply beautiful geometric constructions to elaborately carved stories from Hindu scriptures. And again, of course being India, they displayed the power and wealth of their patrons. They were often attached to temples, and served as bathing, resting and meeting places. In some places, Ayurvedic plants were grown in the surrounding gardens, imparting medicinal value to the waters.

Adalaj Step Well Ladies

Adalaj Step Well Ladies


Our hotel, the Lemon Tree, was nice, clean and comfortable and was a really good value. Approx $300 for 2 people, 4 nights, breakfast and 1/2 wifi each day. Would certainly recommend this chain based on this first experience. So, 4 nights in Ahmedabad and where did the time go? We packed so much into our days and nights here, and still barely touched the city itself. Definitely a place to go to, and far exceeded both Remy and my expectations. Tourism still has a way to go here, to come close to the set-up Rajasthan has in place, but the fundamentals are all here – amazing history, architecture, roads, food, people and, as the next blog will show, vastly diverse and different wildlife parks. Far different than any I’ve experienced to date in India. The bad – seems to have the worst VIP issues I’ve experienced to date as well. In combination with the difficulty discussing the day over a drink before dinner, it has a bit to go before really attracting the average tourist or expat looking for a weekend escape from Delhi or Mumbai. Pity really. Still, they’ve launched a big campaign for Gujarati tourism with none-other than the patriarch of Bollywood himself – Big B – Amitabh Bachaan, so maybe there’s hope. The state sure deserves this business from the two weeks I’ve spent so far.

Step well at the Modhera Sun Temple

Step well at the Modhera Sun Temple

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 15:56 Archived in India Tagged patan textiles gujarat champaner rani_ki_wav adalaj modhera_sun_temple pavagadh patan_patola ikat vishala ahmedaba amnevad Comments (0)

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